One of the first assignments I received joining Microsoft last month was to reflect on Juneteenth and note any insights. Admittedly, aside from hearing the term a few times in recent years, I had little appreciation for the significance of the day or what it represented. I think I could've given you the one sentence answer as to what Juneteenth was, but that answer would've been short on both fact and context.Juneteenth is at least in part a celebration of substantial change so in my mind, these thoughts took shape around the concepts of managing change. I'm sure my perspective is still alarmingly narrow, but I wanted to record a few of the insights that struck me as I read the history of the day itself and the events that led to its inception.
Change without awareness isn't change at all. For two and a half years, the change that was enacted with the Emancipation Proclamation didn't exist for many enslaved people because that liberating truth was unknown at best or hidden at worst.
Change needs authority to be successful. The announcement in Texas was made by a general of the Union army. One can only assume slaveholders knew of the proclamation, likely scoffed at it, and certainly concealed it. It took the force of winning the war and the perceived might of the Union army to enforce a proclamation made many months before.
Resistance to change can be from those experiencing it or those who seek to control it. It seems to me significant that that General Order 3 was announced in Texas because so many slaveholders had fled there from other southern states during the war, leading to an enslaved population of 250,000 people in Texas in 1865. Clearly those invested in exploiting slave labor did all they could to delay change.
The words used to describe change often don't reflect the full reality. A line in the text of the order read in Texas states "all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves." This was obviously not true in any real sense at the time it was read. In the years that followed, fueled by Andrew Johnson, laws in the South were quickly enacted to keep the potential of that statement from being fully realized.
Change may start as a splash but continues as ripples. The Emancipation Proclamation is the big bang but the universe it created has been expanding ever since. Not only was there a lag between emancipation and 6/19/1865, but slavery was still legal in a handful of states including my beloved Kentucky until the 13th amendment was ratified in December 1865. So, there was a three-year period in some Union states where slavery was legal after its end was proclaimed.
We are still in the wake of that change event today as the struggle for equality and efforts at equity are ongoing, and in many cases being fought anew.